Thursday, 30 April 2009

Gold Diggers

I am a great fan of Polyp's cartoons. His work in the New Internationalist was always first rate and directly to the point. As so often this one is simple but highly effective.

Hat-tip: Africa is a Country

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Will The Ugandan Githongo Please Stand Up

It is hard to avoid John Githongo these days. The publicity generated by his starring role in Michela Wrong's excellent 'It's Our Turn to Eat' has once again catapulted him to the forefront of Kenyan politics. He is staring out of the latest edition of the Kenyan aspirational men's magazine 'Adam' and is on the cover of the East African version of The Africa Report (which is, by the way, vital bimonthly reading). His vision is to launch a new grassroots political party cutting across tribe and based on the principle of honest and effective government. Many African Governments will be watching (not least in Uganda) with interest, and a little trepidation, to see whether he succeeds. But this got me thinking: where is the Ugandan John Githongo? Is there any one individual who we can really say is carrying the fight against corruption in this country?

Once upon a time it would have been Teddy Cheeye, who ran an underground paper exposing corruption called 'Uganda Confidential'. However, Cheeye's fall from grace has been spectacular and he now resides in Luzira prison having been sentenced to 10 years for stealing money meant for the victims of HIV/AIDS and TB from the Global Fund. Current candidates are painfully thin on the ground. Faith Mwondha, the Inspector General of Government, has had some successes but suspicion remains that certain individuals and ministries are given an easy ride. Andrew Mwenda has done a huge amount for press freedom in Uganda, and has repeatedly embarrassed the Government, but he is just as likely to do this in the fields of human rights and nepotism as he is in corruption.

So, to paraphrase Eminem, will the Ugandan Githongo please stand up?

Monday, 27 April 2009

Swine Flu Boosts Pharmaceuticals

I am the only one that finds this type of market reaction to a crisis slightly disturbing?

Subs Having Fun At The Independent

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Quote of the Day: Wisdom of a Traffic Cop

From a retired Major in the traffic police:

"At night in Uganda when a car is swerving all over the road we know they are ok. It's when they're driving in a straight line that we arrest them, as we know they are too drunk to avoid the potholes"

Monday, 20 April 2009

The Rebuilding of Makerere's Reputation?

There is interesting article on the rebuilding of Makerere's reputation at the Science and Development Network website. It writes glowingly about the return of a 'research culture' at the university, indicated by a sharp uptick in the number of PhD students graduating in the past few years. This comes after Makerere's reputation as one of the best university's in Africa was hurt by years of neglect and hostility during the fifteen years of political turmoil that consumed Uganda from 1971. It is notable, though, that the article attributes many of the gains to foreign donor money (including the gleaming IT faculty - pictured above from ibeatty on Flickr), a source that is clearly unsustainable. It remains that Makerere is desperately short of resources from central Government, as any visitor to campus will quickly realise.

This extract addresses both the the recent improvements and the huge problems that remain:

Patrick Okori, a crop scientist at Makerere University in Uganda, is breaking a departmental habit of 40 years. He is employing a postdoctoral fellow.

"Today," beams the triumphant scientist from behind his spectacles, "I have been able to employ the very first postdoctoral fellow in the department. And I have also trained 17 postgraduates, 14 MScs and three PhDs over the last four and a half years." Across the university other scientists tell similar stories as Uganda's highest seat of education gradually regains its prestigious reputation of 40 years ago...

But all is not yet perfect and some successes have heightened the challenges. The recent report for IDRC, which it commissioned to assess its own support to the university, highlighted the strain caused by the enormous number of students, up from just 7,000 in the 1990s.
Problems include large classes, increased teaching and marking loads and poor salaries, said the IDRC, noting that "at the same time, [staff] are facing an increasing pressure to conduct research and publish"

Hat-tip: Africa Unchained

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Ugandan Guide To Road Users

In four weeks time I will, according to the friendly lady at the Automobile Association of Uganda, be the proud owner of a three year driving permit. That is of course if I can successfully negotiate the theory test, which is based on a handbook containing such gems as:
  • Do not overtake just for the fun of overtaking
  • Never compete with a train
  • Do not just dangle your arms out the window (in the signs section)
  • You can easily smell if the other driver has been drinking
And my personal favourite:
  • If you hear the siren or see blue flashing lights of the State motorcade approaching draw your vehicle to the extreme left...Do not try to overtake or join the motorcade.
Not join the motorcade! Do they want to take all the fun out of driving?

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

The Ups and Downs of IT at Makerere

Two recent articles related to IT development at Makerere caught my eye. The first is an upbeat post from Spartakuss on how the vast number of student elections on campus can now be conducted online, saving time and resources:

The room is packed and the tension is high as girls line up to cast their votes for their different candidates. The candidates in turn throng the lines of voters reminding them constantly with little flyers and sweets and candies, more commonly known as “logistics”, to nudge voters to include their names on the list they, the voters, will be ticking. But this is no ordinary election. It is Makerere University’s very first election that is being conducted using the E-Voting System.

The online system that has the aspirants and their pictures entered into the system was built at the Makerere University faculty of Computing and IT (CIT) as part of the National Software Incubation Center’s first batch of projects to be incubated. After being turned out as project, the system has now turned into an application. It has seen its first daylight during the current SCR {senior Common Room} elections at the university and seems to be taking the pressure pretty well. The idea, according to Mr. Benon Jurua, the Chairman, Electoral Commission, was to make voting faster and easier while reducing the long queues that are so often a result.

The second is a worrying story in the Monitor about the continued problem of theft from academic departments, this time a seemingly inside job at the flagship IT faculty:

Police is hunting for thieves who over the Easter weekend entered the Information and Communication Technology faculty at Makerere University and stole computer accessories worth over Shs96 million. The Police say the burglars did not break into the building but smartly found their way in. The robbery is captured in the Police’s Easter weekend crime statistics...

Despite the university deploying a big number of security guards, the campus has become prone to crimes ranging from theft and office break-ins. This is the fourth time computer equipment is stolen at the Makerere University in less than a year. The first incident happened in the Faculty of Arts last year. The crimes forced the Police management to upgrade the university post to a station in order to combat rising crime.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Wrong Review for The Independent

My review of 'It's Our Turn to Eat' by Michela Wrong for The Independent is now online here. This is an extract:

"John Githongo was appointed Kenyan anti-corruption czar on a wave of optimism in 2003, as the newly elected NARC Government led by Mwai Kibaki ended 24 years of rule by Daniel arap Moi. Promised unfettered access to the new President, the man responsible for reviving Transparency International in the country confidently set about uncovering the institutional corruption that had characterised Kenya for so long. The signs seemed good. Two new Acts were announced, the first of which would regulate the conduct of public officials and the second set up a new anti-corruption commission. Perhaps most symbolically, Kenya, the home of graft for so many years, became the first country to ratify the UN Convention against Corruption. Two years later, however, and his belief in a fresh start for his country had evaporated as Githongo pieced together a corruption racket that went to the heart of the new regime...

So what lessons to draw for Uganda? Clearly Anglo-Leasing is of a magnitude far greater than Temangalo, the ‘junk’ helicopters, or any of the other recent corruption scandals here. However, with several thousand barrels of oil a day likely to soon be in production, the potential for a large-scale scandal continues to loom large. An Ethics Minister who cares more about graft than miniskirts may be the logical place to begin beefing up Uganda’s fight against corruption, but it is Wrong’s description of the post-election troubles that should most pique the interest of Ugandans. The rigging by a small tribal clique surrounding Kibaki led to an overwhelming outpouring of anger, which expressed itself in ethnically motivated violence within communities that has previously lived peacefully side-by-side. It is, therefore, incumbent on Ugandan political parties to collectively reject the politics of region and tribe, or to run the risk of bloody mayhem come 2011."

Friday, 3 April 2009

G20 Snub Gaddafi?

Looking at the G20 guest list it was interesting to see which international and regional organisations were represented. The IMF, World Bank, World Trade Organisation and UN leaders were all understandably present. So was José Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission, and the Prime Minister of Thailand represented the Association of Southeast Asian nations. But the African Union (AU), Chaired by President Gaddafi, was noticeably absent. Instead Prime Minister Zenawi of Ethiopia attended in his capacity as Chair of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), a programme which is run by the AU. Surely protocol would normally dictate that the Chair of the AU would be invited before the Chair of NEPAD? Or perhaps it had more to do with who could be trusted to behave themselves at dinner and not disrupt the negotiations?

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

The Expat Bar

BraveNewTraveler (via Owen Barder) has an amusing sketch on The 6 Characters You'll Meet At Every Expat Bar. I think anybody who has spent an evening (or two) at Bubbles Irish pub in Kampala could identify with this particular type:

Who is this leather-faced man, camped out on a stool which has over the years conformed to his shape, taking half-bottle gulps of the mid-range national beer between whisky shots?

He’s The Lifer, and nobody knows much of anything about him other than the fact that he’s been in town as long as anyone can remember.

Where does his money come from? How did he end up here? It’s all a mystery. But one thing’s for sure, when The Lifer first came through town, that’s when “travel was real, man.”

The Lifer is good for a few amusing stories involving the ingestion of huge quantities of drugs which haven’t existed since the mid-80’s, but be careful: he’s not in any hurry to get anywhere, so you could be in for a long night.